By: Michal Goldstein
In June of last year, I finished high school with the overwhelming sense that I was graduating into a future that I did not know how to handle. I was angry. I was angry that the world that I was stepping into felt dangerous and unfair. I was angry that after so long, so much of our society remained indisputably wrong. I was angry that the word “Jews” was trending on Twitter that week, and not in a good way. I was angry that members of a fraternity at my friend’s college were exposed for raping countless innocent female students, after years of denial. I was angry over the incessant need to condone the liberation of those who were fighting for a freedom that had been consistently stolen for them, one that was integral to their basic survival. It became clear to me that I had only recently begun to fear my safety. Meanwhile, my Black peers lived each day this way, in and outside of a pandemic.
I look at the events of our history, and I wonder if people were angry in the same way that I am now. I wonder, “Where were the people of good will? Where were they when they were needed the most?”And I wonder how I can be a person of good will now. I know that anger is futile without action. Anti-racism is not a “nice-to-have.” It is not a trend, it is not an implementation of diversity simply to seem inclusive; it is urgent. And it is time to commit ourselves to it fully.
As a white person, I willingly admit that talking about racism is not always comfortable for me. While I don’t hold comfort as a necessary component of conversation, I understand that it feels much better to be confident in what you’re saying. There is a metaphor I like to revisit when I want to remind myself that in our greatest discomfort lies our greatest opportunities for growth. This is the metaphor of the trapeze by Danaan Parry (linked below):
Imagine that you’re swinging on a trapeze bar. This bar is a comfortable one. You’ve been using it for a long time. It’s stable. It’s easy to hold onto. But eventually, a new bar enters your view. Who knows when this one came into the picture; perhaps it was fifteen years ago, when you saw a Black student being treated unfairly. Perhaps it was a month ago, when you attended a workshop on unconscious bias. Perhaps it was in May 2020, when your eyes were opened to the public demand for racial justice. That trapeze bar is telling you: the way that you have always seen the world is not how the world actually is. That truth is right in front of you now; you can’t push it out of your vision. But have you accepted it yet? Or are you afraid to take the jump, because you don’t know how to do it “right”?
The call to action can feel inspiring. But it can also feel scary. The worry about saying the wrong things can cause you to slip. You know that if you take the leap, you will have to reject what you once thought of as equality. You will have to reject the whitewashed history you were taught in school. You will have to reject the illusion that your life has not been influenced by racial privilege. You may fear the loss of friends who are unwilling to hear your new perspectives, or the loss of trust from family members who disagree with you. But you know, deep down, that to move forward, you have to let go.
So this is where you are now: in the heart of the jump. The old trapeze bar is behind you, and the next one is right there, but your hands haven’t clasped it yet. This is what we’re afraid of: the space in between the last trapeze bar and the next one. Where we’re confused, where we don’t know what to say, where we don’t know how and where to start. But Parry offers us the perspective that, perhaps, this is where our growth happens. Culturally, we look at life as before and after. Before the jump and after the jump. Before you take the call to action to fight for equality and after, when you become confident in starting the conversation with others. No one talks about the leap. And it’s pretty nice to avoid talking about the leap, because it’s a sort of gray space for all of us where we feel really unsure. But we’re jumping, aren’t we? So it’s probably time to discuss it.
This is what I tell myself: I am not going to get it all in a day. I’m not going to be perfect. I’m not always going to say the right things. I might offend someone. I may not know the best way to talk to my family about racism. But the jump is where I can decide to do it anyway, even if my voice shakes, even if I need advice, even if I think I’m doing it wrong. I have to be okay with being an amateur, okay with not having anything to hold onto, okay with continuing to learn, because the work is only beginning.
Let’s call growth what it is: a leap. But let’s also acknowledge the privilege we have to leap. Those with a lived experience of racism are thrown into the jump all the time, without a choice. Meanwhile, our whiteness affords us a safety net below the bar. Our fear for the jump is about comfort. Always has been, always will be. This is worlds away from the fear that people of color face. Discomfort doesn’t even begin to describe their experience.
Speaking up against discrimination is not about perfection. It’s about doing it. It’s about following that pull in your gut that’s telling you, “You can’t just sit here and watch this. This isn’t right. And you need to say something.” It’s about standing up for what you believe in, even if you’re nervous, because you have the privilege of speaking up without being interrupted, without being targeted, and without being the subject of racial hate. The privilege of teaching your kids about race, instead of hearing how they’ve been mistreated due to racism inflicted on them.
So let’s vow to embrace action, even when we’re uncertain. Let’s vow to embrace growth, even when it’s not linear. Here’s to making the jump. Again and again and again.